“The fans now can recognise themselves in the club and its symbols. They can say ‘we did this’. Our job is to safeguard the football club, we have done it in the past and we will do it in the future.”
This year, Taras 706 a.c, the supporters’ trust of Taranto Football Club, celebrates 10 years since its foundation. The supporters group has been the football club’s greatest line of defence over the last 10 years. It may not be here today if it were not for Taras 706 a.c.’s support.
To mark the anniversary, SD Europe spoke to Fabio Guarini. Fabio is the chair of Taras 706 a.c and a board member of the national supporters organisation in Italy, Supporters In Campo.
Taras 706 was founded in 2012 following Taranto FC’s withdrawal from the league owing to financial troubles. The supporters’ trust started with 30 founding members and now has over 2700 lifetime members. Taras 706 a.c. owns 7% of Taranto Football Club 1927 which now plays in Serie C. The group has special voting rights meaning the football club cannot change the club’s colours, move to a different city or be sold to somebody else without the supporters’ permission.
In addition to its aims to improve Taranto FC from a governance perspective, Taras 706 a.c. also has carried out numerous initiatives to benefit the people of the city Taranto whom the organisation feels a great sense of responsibility and duty towards.
To begin Fabio, can you introduce yourself. How long have you been involved with Taras? When did you become Chair? How long have you been a supporter of Taranto FC?
“My name is Fabio Guarini, I’m 29 years old and I work in engineering. I got involved with the supporters’ trust in 2014. It started when I came together with other Taranto supporters who were born in the city but had moved away for work or education who wanted to help the club. We held an event for those of us living away from Taranto to cooperate together in the name of our passion, being the football club. This led to me joining the supporters’ trust.
The name of the supporters’ trust is ‘Taras 706 a.c.’ because it relates to the foundation of the city of Taranto, being the year 706 and Taras being its original name. It was the only Spartan city other than Sparta.
As a member, I cooperated in working groups and with other members of the group via social media, and then in 2016, I ran to be elected onto the board. In 2017, I then became Vice President and now I am the Chair. My job is to represent the fan base and their passion. The passion Taranto supporters have is something that struck me when my father took me to a match for the very first time. It’s the joys and also the sorrows that have kept us together as supporters to be here today.”
Taras 706 is 10 years old now. Over the last decade, it’s played a vital role on numerous occasions to ensure the survival of Taranto FC – can you offer a brief summary of what the club has been through?
“At first, you need to understand the ecosystem the club is a part of. Taranto is a city in the south of Italy with almost 200,000 people. It is one of the poorest areas in Europe. Before 1993, the football club had spent most of its time in Serie B. Since 1993, it has experienced three bankruptcies and had to re-established each time. Including in 2012 thanks to the supporters’ trust.You have to consider in the last 10 years the club has played in the fourth level of italian football, until the last two years where we have played in Serie C. In these 10 years, the club has been passed between five different majority shareholders who have taken over running the club, and each time, bringing the club near bankruptcy and putting it on a football black list.
So, on several occasions in the last 10 years the club has faced severe difficulty. To ensure the survival of our club, we as the supporters’ trust have had to recapitalise it, and we will certainly have to do so in the future. We launched a majority partnership campaign a few months ago which will help us to work in a more concrete way. The current majority shareholder is yet to realise the potential of including the supporters’ trust in the corporate structure, and although we only own 7% of the football club shares, we have certain rights over the football club. For example, we have a say on any merger, transfer or change of the company, we control any change of colours or the brand of the club. Three years ago, we stopped the majority shareholder from splitting the club company to avoid statutory obligations, and more recently we organised a campaign to protect the club’s badge by allowing supporters to submit designs for a new one and then democratically voting for a design to be adopted as our club’s new identity.”
Now onto Taras 706, we’ll come onto the role it has played in protecting the football club, but why was the supporters group founded in the beginning?
“In March 2012, we were one step away from promotion to Serie B, for which we had been missing from since 1993. But because the club didn’t pay salaries of some players, it was deducted points from the league table. After this, the club renounced from registering for the next season and withdrew from the league. Following this, the supporters’ trust formed and began a membership campaign. We brought together supporters and re-founded the club in July 2021. The new Taranto Football Club started at the fourth level and today is at the third level.”
What would you say has been Taras 706’s biggest achievement to date?
“We have two closely related achievements. Refounding the club and protecting its badge. We have the last word on crucial decisions, no matter who is the majority shareholder which is unique in Italy. And of course, the supporters decided on the new badge for the football club. I think these two achievements gives us importance in the ecosystem of the football club. The fans now can recognise themselves in the club and its symbols. They can say ‘we did this’. Our job is to safeguard the football club, we have done it in the past and we will do it in the future.”
In addition to working to safeguard the football club, Taras 706 has also delivered a number of projects to support the community of Taranto, can you describe a few examples of this work?
“Over the years we have carried out several charitable campaigns to support people in difficult circumstances in Taranto and the region. These initiatives have multiplied in the last few years as the pandemic has accentuated circumstances and made life harder for people, particularly in the south of Italy and Taranto. So we decided to do more on a regular basis to support our community. The first one was called Spesa Solidale. We collected thousands of euros which we re-distributed to the families of Taranto who were most in need during the pandemic.
The second project was to support an association that offers support to children with cancer the pediatric ward in the local hospital. As a side note, Taranto is one of the most polluted cities in Europe because of local industry regularly exceeding emission limits, in the last few decades we have seen significant increases in the number of people with cancer in the city which sadly includes children too. Since 2012, we have run a campaign with a green vision for Taranto. Working with the association, we donated masks in the club’s colours to protect the children and their employees.
The final project centred around three paintings which were produced of a legendary club player which were then sold with the money used to aid people in chronic difficulties. One of our clear objectives for the future is that we want to help the people of Taranto.”
Taras 706 is a member of Supporters In Campo, the national supporters organisation in Italy. What benefits has it felt from being a part of the Italian network?
“We have benefited massively from being members of Supporters In Campo. From the very beginning of the supporters’ trust, they have helped us to manage Taras 706 b.c in a professional way and offered guidance and help when we need it. I’ve been a member of the board of Supporters In Campo for four years now. Being on the board has shown me first hand what they are doing for supporters and Italian football. Whenever we have had difficulty with the football club, ‘SinC’ has supported us and helped us to make the best choices. It has also helped us to meet with other supporters groups and football clubs. The annual event is always something special. The exchange of knowledge and best practices with others in the network has been really valuable. It’s helped us to improve and reach important goals.”
Going forwards, what does Taras 706 want to achieve? What is the vision for Taranto FC?
“Over the last 10 years, we often faced emergency situations that led to us being forced into making quick decisions. We have never had the time to plan. Only these last few months have had the breathing room to do this. I firmly believe that without a strong recognition of the fans within the football club’s ecosystem, we cannot achieve conscious change. There will be no revolutions discussed at the table. Now, the short term goal is to get a wider number of fans to understand the importance of the supporters’ trust and that football is changing. Now is the time to act to ensure the survival of our passion before it’s too late. We need to raise awareness from the bottom up, but also continue to dialogue with the FA through SinC to ask for systemic reforms and to ensure the participation of fans in football is understood as important. We have to make sure the voice of the fans is heard when making decisions in our club”.
Thank you to Fabio and Taras 706 a.c. for taking time to speak with us. Visit their website here to find out more about the supporters group!